bel·​em·​nite ˈbe-ləm-ˌnīt How to pronounce belemnite (audio)
: any of various extinct cephalopods (order Belemnoidea) especially abundant in the Mesozoic era that had internal shells and that superficially resembled and are regarded as ancestors of the squids
: the fossilized bullet-shaped remains of a belemnite

Examples of belemnite in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The two animals consisted of a now extinct squid-like belemnite which was consuming an ancient lobster relative in the genus Proeryon. Priya Shukla, Forbes, 23 May 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'belemnite.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from New Latin belemnītēs "bullet-shaped fossilized rostrum of an extinct animal," from Greek bélemnon "missile, spear, arrow" (probably from bele-, full-grade base of the verb bállein "to throw, hit by throwing") + New Latin -ītēs -ite entry 1 — more at devil entry 1

Note: The Latin name belemnites appears to originate with the German mineralogical pioneer Georg Agricola (1494-1555); it is used a number of times in his De natura fossilium (first printed by Frobenius, Basel, 1546), though he nowhere takes credit for it. The most he says about the word is the following: "At belemnites sagittae effigiem repraesentat: quare Saxones eum uocabulo ex ephialte & sagitta composito nominant … " - "But a belemnite shows the image of an arrow: wherefore the Saxons [= Germans] designate it with a word composed of 'nightmare' and 'arrow'" (p. 266). Conrad Gesner expands upon this statement in his De rerum fossilium, lapidum et gemmarum (Zürich, 1565), partially quoting Agricola: "Belemnites Sagittae (quae βέλεμνον Graecis dicitur) effigiem repraesentat. quare Saxones eum vocabulo ex ephialte & sagitta composito (Alpfesscht/Alpschosz) nominant … Belemnites, vel Dactylus Idaeus, maior: sic dictus à figura sagittae: unde & Germani quidam Alpschosz, hoc est, sagittam Incubi appellant." - "A belemnite shows the image of an arrow (which is called bélemnon by the Greeks), wherefore the Saxons designate it with a word composed of 'nightmare' and 'arrow' (Alpfesscht/Alpschosz) … Belemnite, or Idaean finger [finger of Mt. Ida], is greater; so called from the figure of an arrow; from which the Germans call it an Alpschosz, that is, the arrow of an incubus" (pp. 90, 92). Gesner's comments suggest that the coinage belemnites might have been suggested by Alpschosz (literally, "elf-shot," though Agricola and Gessner give the word the customary post-pagan interpretation, rendering Alb as "incubus" or "nightmare"). — Though Greek bele- would appear to go back to *gwelh1-, the full-grade base of bállō, bállein (from *gwəl-n-ō or *gwəl-i̯-ō), the suffix -mn- has raised questions. Chantraine (La formation des noms en grec ancien, Klincksieck, 1933/1979), remarks that bélemnon "est un élargissement inattendu de bélos" ("is an unexpected extension of bélos" ["missile, arrow"]) and belongs, along with several other words with the same suffix, to "vocabulaire populaire et technique" (p. 215). Edzard Furnée, Die wichtigsten konsonantischen Erscheinungen des Vorgriechischen (Mouton, 1972), p. 151 (cited in Beekes, Etymological Dictonary of Greek), regards the suffix and the word as substratal.

First Known Use

1646, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of belemnite was in 1646

Dictionary Entries Near belemnite

Cite this Entry

“Belemnite.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Jun. 2024.

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